It’s been a busy week and as Thursday night rolls around I want nothing to do with the real world. I consider my options: continue rewatching Doctor Who on Netflix or head out to Howler to catch Ali Barter and Ben Wright-Smith. I opt for the latter, but not before a lot of procrastination. I procrastinate so much that I miss WILSN. (I’ll probably regret that later).

The band walk out on the stage and set the tone with an atmospheric and swelling A chord before Ben Wright-Smith grabs his acoustic and leads them into the high energy opening number. After so many shows it’s rare for me to be utterly enraptured with an artist I’m not familiar with so early in their set but it’s especially pleasing, and Wright-Smith and band have me from the word go. Guitarist Oscar Dawson maintains the atmosphere (and a G chord) between the first two songs and it keeps me right in there. Co-headliner Ali Barter joins the boys on stage for the third track and it hits a sweet spot: her vocals adding something special to the mix and her presence highlighting the fun the band are clearly having, with Barter and Wright-Smith pulling faces at each other in a pure moment of friendship that is definitely not for the crowd.

It’s moments like this that remind me why I love seeing bands live and the band maintain their playful attitude throughout the show. At one point Wright-Smith asks a guy in the crowd if he can try on his cowboy hat, they then enlist said cowboy (who I might add is wearing skinny jeans and Chucks, accidentally dressing as the perfect visual representation of Wright-Smith’s country flavoured indie rock) to help to bring the crowd closer and, before the second last song, Wright-Smith and Dawson start playfully duelling each other with a classic Angus Young riff. They finish up their set with another song featuring Ali Barter and it’s one of the best songs they’ve played (including a killer drum solo) which is impressive since they’d already set the bar very high.

I head out to the beer garden to have a sit down between sets and my break goes a little too long, I sneak back into the bandroom in the middle of ‘Ode to Summa’ but fortunately I’m not alone, plenty of people follow me in. Ali Barter doesn’t notice, she and her band (which is almost exactly the same as Ben Wright-Smith’s band) are rocking out. They kick it up a notch with a heavier track, before Barter introduces the third song as ‘The Captain’ then quickly corrects herself as the band play ‘Blood,’ the latest single. ‘The Captain’ is next, and just beforehand Barter introduces Yuko, the newest band member. It’s clear Yuko is a great addition, her backing vocals perfectly complement Barter’s lead and she shines in the call and response chorus of ‘I Ask For So Little.’ Oscar Dawson comes dangerously close to stealing the show with his epic solo and equally epic hair, but he reigns himself in at just the right time.

Barter dismisses the band and opts to play some stripped back numbers, starting out with ‘Community.’ On stage she appears vulnerable but her vocals are so powerful it doesn’t translate. The visual is also a weird juxtaposition to the lyrical content but, to be perfectly frank, it’s fucking beautiful. She continues alone for one more song and the crowd is entirely invested, hanging on every breath. Howler isn’t a small bandroom, but Barter manages to make it feel incredibly intimate. She welcomes back the band for the rest of the set and even though I thought I might leave early (don’t judge me), I can’t help but stay until the end which, of course, rolls around too soon.

Wes Fahey

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